“Blood (Donald Formey),” 1975 by Barkley L. Hendricks

 

“I’m most concerned about Barkley’s legacy now that he’s gone. I want more and more people to understand what all the hoopla’s about. He was a master painter and this is one of his greatest works.”
— Collector Kenneth Montague

IF YOU VISIT the Brooklyn Museum’s website looking for the “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” exhibition, a striking red-on-red portrait greets you. “Blood (Donald Formey)” by Barkley L. Hendricks (1945-2017) features a confidently cool subject in a pair of harlequin-checked pants with a coordinating bomber-style jacket. The artist painted his red outfit against a red background. Hendricks called such works his “limited-palette” paintings.

“Blood” (1975) belongs to Dr. Kenneth Montague. When he purchased the painting in January 2008, he didn’t take physical possession of it for more than two years. After the Toronto dentist bought the painting, it was shipped directly from the artist’s Connecticut studio to the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University where it was included in “Barkley Hendricks: Birth of the Cool,” the landmark traveling survey organized by Trevor Schoonmaker that brought renewed attention to the artist’s powerful portraits.

The touring exhibition finally concluded in 2010 and Montague hung the portrait on a prominent wall in his loft. Nearly a decade later, when the Brooklyn Museum requested the painting for “Soul of a Nation,” he was hesitant about letting it go again, but embraced the opportunity to share it with the public in the high-profile show. The historic exhibition opened last September with “Blood” displayed alongside two other paintings by Hendricks—”What’s Going On” (1974) and “Brilliantly Endowed (Self-Portrait)” (1977).

Montague marveled at seeing “Blood” in the acclaimed show among works by more than 60 of the most critically recognized African American artists active between 1963 and 1983. He was particularly thrilled that “Blood” was used as the signature image for the exhibition, promoting the show on banners outside the Brooklyn Museum, a CD produced to accompany the exhibition, on the institution’s website, and elsewhere.

Prior to purchasing “Blood,” Montague focused on photography, mostly collecting works by black Canadian, West African, and African American photographers. He says acquiring the Hendricks portrait transformed his approach to collecting. He continues to buy photography primarily, but his collection also includes other mediums now, most notably paintings by Jordan Casteel, Jennifer Packer, Henry Taylor, and “Any Number of Pre-occupations,” a large-scale portrait by British painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

Montague provided an oral history of sorts about “Blood.” The collector spoke with Culture Type about his first encounter with the work, how acquiring the painting has broadened his experiences in the art world, and a family connection with Hendricks that goes back generations.

 


Kenneth Montague established the Wedge Collection in 1997. An active enterprise, he’s assembled more than 400 works, curated exhibitions, and pursued collaborative projects with museums and arts institutions. Shown, Montague in his Toronto dental office waiting room, with photographs by Jamel Shabazz (c. 1980-89). | Photo courtesy Kenneth Montague

 
First Impressions

CULTURE TYPE: Tell me about when you first saw the painting, “Blood (Donald Formey).” It was in 2005 in the “Back to Black” exhibition in London, right?

KENNETH MONTAGUE: Yes. I saw, I think, an ad in Timeout London. I was on a trip and I decided to pop in and I ended up missing a plane because I had to go back the next day to take it in for another two or three hours. It was one those pivotal moments. Young people would use hashtag “goals” now. There were three Barkley paintings in that show. I’d never heard of the artist and I just fell in love with the painting, “Blood,” that was featured in a room with two other Barkleys. They were all just gems. They were this monochromatic kind of vibe. There was a red-on-red, this painting “Blood,” and it immediately spoke to me.

    Editor’s Note: “Back to Black: Art, Cinema and the Racial Imaginary” at Whitechapel Gallery featured works by 40 artists and was a major component of Africa 05, a season of events across Britain dedicated to African arts. Co-curated by David A. Bailey (UK), Richard J. Powell (USA) and Petrine Archer-Straw (Jamaica), the exhibition explored the Black Arts Movement in the United States, Britain and Jamaica in the 1960s and 70s. Three works by Barkley L. Hendricks were included: “Blood (Donald Formey)” (1975), “Lawdy Mama” (1969), and “Sir Charles, Alias Willie Harris” (1972).

I had been waiting for a show like “Back to Black” being Canadian born with parents of Jamaican descent. I had the Caribbean background, but I was born and grew up in Windsor, Ontario, which is the southernmost Canadian city and right across the river from Detroit, Michigan. I had this tri-cultural kind of upbringing. I was born in the 60s and so the 60s, 70s, 80s are my era. A show like “Back to Black,” or “Soul of a Nation” for that matter, directly speaks to me.

In 2005, I was almost exclusively a photography collector. I already had works from West African photographers like Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé in my collection. I had works from Harlem Renaissance masters like Gordon Parks and [James] Van Der Zee. I had African Canadian artists in the collection and that has become a big part. I’m probably the person with the largest collection of African Canadian art at this point.

I never thought of acquiring the painting (“Blood”) because I wasn’t buying anything but photography. I just thought, my gosh, it’s already in a show at Whitechapel. I thought it was a famous African American artist. I got the postcard in the gift shop that had the painting on it and I put it on my refrigerator in my condo in Toronto and I’ve been living with this image. I started reading Richard Powell and I met David Bailey because I met the people at Autograph. It was a really thrilling time. I was going to London often. I saw work from Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and other artists that were coming up.

I had the Caribbean background, but I was born and grew up in Windsor, Ontario, which is the southernmost Canadian city and right across the river from Detroit, Michigan. I had this tri-cultural kind of upbringing. I was born in the 60s and so the 60s, 70s, 80s are my era. A show like “Back to Black,” or “Soul of a Nation” for that matter, directly speaks to me.

Meeting Trevor

A couple of years went by. What changed and made you think about the painting as a potential purchase?

This painting, “Blood” by Barkley Hendricks was burned in my brain and two years later, two summers later, I was in Venice for that famous (2007) Venice Biennale with El Anatsui’s work coming out to the world and Malick Sidibe was the first black artist to win the Golden Lion. I was there with Thelma Golden and a group from the Studio Museum. It was my first Venice Biennale. At the Palazzo Grassi, I was introduced to Trevor Schoonmaker and Teka Selman by Thelma Golden and we just became fast friends from that moment. I’d actually met Teka Selman before, his wife, maybe two or three years before in a booth at Sikkema Jenkins at one of the art fairs because she was representing Kara Walker there.

Trevor, it turns out, is the guy who did “The Black President” (the 2003 exhibition about the art and legacy of Nigerian Afrobeat founder Fela Anikulapo-Kuti presented at the New Museum in New York City). It was amazing to meet them. We sat down and had something to eat at the café in the museum and [he said], “What kind of art are you into? What are you collecting? And I told him about my Wedge project, you know, emerging black Canadian artists and doing the sort of international work and curatorial work. And I kind of just threw it out to them. “Gee, what I’ve really… the artist that’s burned in my brain is this, have you heard of this Barkley Hendricks? I saw this great work in ‘Back to Black’ a couple of summers ago.”

By then, they were both laughing and kind of falling off the chairs, Trevor saying that this is an artist who I love and I’m going to be producing his first career retrospective. It’s going to be touring around America. This show’s going to be opening next year, like February of 2008. Teka was like, we know Barkley and Susan, his wife. They’ve become friends of ours. If you are interested in that painting, I think you could probably acquire it. We could introduce you to the artist.

I’d almost fell off my chair, because I thought it was so out of my element. I immediately resisted. I told them, “Yeah well, I’d love that. But I’m really only primarily collecting photography and it would be a big jump for me.” As you can imagine, the price was high for me as the dentist from Toronto, but it was nothing like what the price would be today. But still, it was a big jump for me at that time to consider.

 


Collector Kenneth Montague (in foreground) with, from left, Trevor Schoonmaker, now deputy director of curatorial affairs and curator of contemporary art at the Nasher Museum of Art; the collector’s father Spurgeon Montague; and artist Barkley L. Hendricks, in front of work by Dawit L. Petros at the 2012 exhibition “Becoming: Photographs From the Wedge Collection” at the Nasher Museum of Art. | Photo courtesy Kenneth Montague

 
Meeting Barkley

When did you finally meet Barkley Hendricks and talk to him about the painting?

I started a dialogue with Trevor and Teka and ultimately was introduced to Barkley and Susan by phone. We didn’t really talk on the phone until Christmastime of 2007. Just before maybe December 2007 was when I met the artist by phone. It turns out that Barkley and Susan were leaving the next day to go to Jamaica. They had a vacation home there for 35 years. He’s been living in a place that they owned in Jamaica that was a stone’s throw from the place that my father was born in a little town called Southfield in the south coast of Jamaica. When I say stone’s throw, I could throw a stone. I don’t have to be Tom Brady to throw from where that was. Preposterous coincidence.

When did you actually buy the painting?

That’s a tough one. I would say it was probably formally bought, as in the transaction, would have been in January of 2008, formally. You know, asking about it and getting it together, making the deals for it. Talking to the artist, talking about it on the phone. Yes, we’d like you to have it. That was December 2007.

After working out the transaction essentially by phone, when did you and the artist first meet in person?

I bought the painting after talking to him in December. We met at the opening of “Birth of the Cool” (at the Nasher Museum), two months later in 2008. He (“Donald Formey”) never came into my possession for two years while it toured around the four stops (beyond the Nasher). He came to me finally in Toronto in 2010.

 
Becoming ‘Cool’

Did you see the painting in other venues during that time?

I went around and saw it like my baby that was on loan and had a lot of babysitters. I remember the pride of place Thelma gave it at the top of the stairs in her two-floor space (at the Studio Museum in Harlem). I remember meeting all those people who were interested in the work and pictures were taken in all these spots. One of the great stops L.A. was fun. Houston was great because my father was there. But PAFA, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where Barkley started as a student, that was a very special opening and I remember hanging out with Donald Odita who teaches at Tyler and became close friends after that opening.

That must of have been some experience. Seeing your first major painting presented all over the United States.

It became a personal journey, getting to know Barkley and Susan, Trevor and Teka. We’ve become great friends. It’s fascinating to me that all of this came out of pretty much a chance meeting because I was on a tour. Nothing’s by chance as you know. It’s that I had a relationship with Thelma. They had a relationship with Thelma. Once again, she’s the conductor of that. Then Trevor and Teka took the baton, passed it on and pulled me into Barkley’s orbit.

The story of the painting is really the story of my entrée into the world of collecting in a much broader, bigger way. The painting enriched my life in numerous ways. First and foremost meeting the artist, his wife, meeting Trevor and Teka but also this greater story of watching the painting, that I felt like only I knew back in 2005 and have on my fridge, become this iconic thing.

The story of the painting is really the story of my entrée into the world of collecting in a much broader, bigger way. The painting enriched my life in numerous ways.


BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS (1945-2017), “View from Behind the School,” 2000 (oil on linen). | Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Barkley L. Hendricks. © Barkley L. Hendricks, Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion

 
The Jamaican Connection

“Birth of the Cool” also featured some landscapes by Hendricks. Those images depict Southfield. Tell me about your experiences with the artist in Jamaica.

It turns out their vacation spot is the little town, Southfield, that my father’s from. I’ve also been vacationing in the summers there since I was a little boy. So we both knew this little town that’s not a tourist spot in Jamaica, a beautiful little place. His portraits are mostly done in America, but his landscapes are all in Jamaica where he would spend his Christmases, leaving Connecticut College and going with Susan and just having some time of his own for a few weeks. He met my father. My father was an academic, retired teacher and he died last year. They became good friends. I have great photos of us on New Year’s Eve in Jamaica only three years ago, last time we saw each other all together.

Just the one year we all celebrated in Jamaica. I feel like I’d seen him there before because we talk on the phone always at Christmastime while he was in Jamaica. And sometimes my auntie would be visiting. It was hilarious. My dad’s late brother, an uncle and his wife still live in that house that is a stone’s throw from his house. It was the Christmas and New Years of 2015 when my father, Barkley, Susan, we all finally were in Jamaica at the same time. We spent New Year’s Eve together.

We have those pictures. That celebration at a big table enjoying Jamaican food and then a fantastic three or four days of going to each other’s houses in Jamaica kind of filled in the blanks. Looking at his landscapes from Jamaica. Sitting on the roof of his home, which overlooked the roof of my auntie’s home and the home that my father was born in and looking down this hill out to the ocean. I knew that view and my father knew the view when we saw the works that were touring in “Birth of the Cool.”

“Looking at his landscapes from Jamaica, the view kind of sitting on the roof of his home, which overlooked the roof of my auntie’s home and the home that my father was born in and looking down this hill out to the ocean. I knew that view and my father knew the view when we saw the works that were touring in ‘Birth of the Cool.'”


Collector Kenneth Montague and artist Barkley L. Hendricks in front of Blood (1975) at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in 2010. | Photo courtesy Kenneth Montague

 
Artistic Vision

Back in 2007, when you first got on the phone with Hendricks to talk about buying “Blood,” did he tell you about the painting? Why he painted it? Who his subject was?

Yeah, Donald Formey was a student of his when he was teaching art class, art school at Connecticut College. He was a student that then came around the studio and posed for him. It think it was over a series of months. Barkley was pretty meticulous, a slow painter that loved it the way you love fine wine. He would come back to it, you know, day after day or week to week. So it wasn’t a one off. The process is long and painstaking. This young student would pose and I believe he had a jacket that had that harlequin pattern on it, but Barkley took artistic license and doubled it, making it a pantsuit, adding the pants to it. He might’ve been wearing jeans or something. Then the props, holding the tambourine in his hands might have been Barkley’s idea, but the kid was wearing that cap.

What about the title of the painting? Did Hendricks tell you whether that was about the color of the painting or does it reference a slang term for black men or “brothers”?

Yeah, yeah. Both. Both things. I mean, I think it was, I’m not sure if he, I think I asked him, but I’m quite certain that his answer was both things. The literal obvious color red blood. The color, that monochromatic thing. That’s the obvious literal part. But it was more about, “Hey brother, hey blood,” which is a term that I actually grew up using too, growing up outside Detroit. Instead of saying, “Yo my brother,” I would say, “Hey blood.” It’s also a term of endearment between black men. It’s also a sacred word for Rastafarians in Jamaica. The blood is sacred for all of us that have African descent. We have a common blood. Cultural blood being a sacred element is something that really spoke to me, though the title of the work has the more obvious meaning—the color red and the use in African American parlance, you know, blood brother.

Does the painting speak to you on a personal level?

So much of the work that’s mainly the portraiture in my Wedge Collection, like many collectors, it’s really an exploration of self. I see a cooler, much cooler, imagined version of myself in that kid in 1975 (portrayed in “Blood”). I have that famous print by Dawoud Bey of the young kid in front of the Harlem theater with the sunglasses (“A Boy in Front of the Loews 125th Street Movie Theater Date,” 1976). It seems like the same kid, you know? I’ve got pictures of myself at that age, not looking that cool, but wearing those sunglasses. Vanley Burke (the British Jamaican photographer) is in my collection, his picture of the kid with the British flag, the Union Jack on the bicycle in Handsworth Park (“Boy with Flag,” 1970). These are iconic images and so much of that is a search for self, looking for of reflection of yourself in the contemporary art world.

For me going across the river on the weekends to Detroit when my dad was doing graduate work at Wayne State, my mother would take us to the DIA (the Detroit Institute of Arts). It was a mind blower. I got into art and when I could afford it as a dentist years later. I started wanting to have a longer relationship with the art that I was seeing in galleries.

 
Brooklyn Bound

When “Soul of a Nation” opened at the Tate, there were three paintings by Hendricks, but “Blood” wasn’t included in London or Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. How did it end up being in the Brooklyn show?

I believe Ashley James, the curator at the Brooklyn Museum, she went to Prospect in New Orleans and saw the Barkley Hendricks room at the New Orleans museum that Trevor put together in that biennial, that triennial, and was blown away by “Blood.” At the same moment, I think she had heard that the lender of the image that had been in use, I think it was on the cover of the “Soul of the Nation” British catalog. The Superman one. (“Icon for My Man Supermam (Superman never saved any black people—Bobby Seale,” 1969.) I’m not sure, but the lender of that work, for whatever reason, wanted it back so they were looking to balance it out. They wanted another Barkley and she chose it. She saw “Blood” and was like, “Oh my God, who owns that one?”

 


From left, Installation view of “What’s Going On,” “Brilliantly Endowed (Self Portrait),” and “Blood (Donald Formey),” by Barkley L. Hendricks, “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” Brooklyn Museum (Sept. 14, 2018 -Feb. 03, 2019. | Photo by Jonathan Dorado, 2018

 
    Editor’s Note: I asked Brooklyn Museum curator Ashley James to weigh in. She told Culture Type via email the following about how “Blood” came to be included in the Brooklyn exhibition and why it was selected to promote the show:

    “Blood” was selected to appear in the Brooklyn show because another Barkley Hendricks painting could not travel to the venue, so I was looking for a replacement. In the fall of 2017, I just so happened to see “Blood” at Prospect New Orleans (4) which was curated by Trevor Schoonmaker, and was immediately taken with it and just knew it needed to be in the show. (And probably would have wanted to make space for it even if the former work did travel!)

    Seeing it at Prospect wasn’t a coincidence because Trevor also curated Barkley’s significant “Birth of the Cool” show which really opened up Barkley’s work to new (and even international) audiences, and Dr. Montague lent “Blood” for that show. So here you have two curators/collectors who have supported Hendricks’s work for some time contributing to the show in their own ways. And perhaps to also further flesh out the networks of Hendricks’s support, I believe Dr. Montague first saw the work in a show out of London on the Black Power period curated by David Bailey, Rick Powell, and Petrine Archer-Straw back in 2005. So all in all, “Blood” is a great reminder that the field is built through many curators, many shows, many collectors, and over time.

“‘Blood’ is a great reminder that the field is built through many curators, many shows, many collectors, and over time.” — Curator Ashley James

I got an email from her wondering if I’d be open to having it join the show and you know, it’s a tough one because I’m protective of the work. But I also want as many people to experience the joy and the beauty of it. Also, ultimately, I’m most concerned about Barkley’s legacy now that he’s gone. I want more and more people to understand what all the hoopla’s about. He was a master painter and this is one of his greatest works. So yeah, I was okay with it being in “Soul of a Nation.” It wasn’t at the beginning. It was several months later after all the contracts had been signed and a few weeks before the show opened. It’s like, “Hey, our graphics department wants to know if we could use it as a signature image.” And I was like, “Fine.”

    Curator Ashley James: Many things drew me to it. This painting carries so much of what makes Hendricks’s work particular and spectacular: his wonderful handling of people and their attendant personalities; his keen eye for style; his slick use of oil and acrylic paint to affect that pop of the figure; perhaps in particular I love what happens at the site where the red background of the painting meets the red in the figure’s suit. For me it’s a reminder that Hendricks was also [quite] interested in color theory, perception, opticality, all of these things we often discuss in the context of abstract art but is being worked out within the arena of portraiture.

    There are many things to consider when choosing a promotional image. In this case, the image is strong and able to remain legible across various platforms. I also chose it for the reasons listed above: It calls forth many of the themes, questions of the show, like the tension between abstraction and figuration; black affirmational imagery, and so forth. It also engages style, which is also a thread to be followed in the show.

“I love what happens at the site where the red background of the painting meets the red in the figure’s suit. For me it’s a reminder that Hendricks was also [quite] interested in color theory, perception, opticality, all of these things we often discuss in the context of abstract art but is being worked out within the arena of portraiture.” — Curator Ashley James


Kenneth Montague outside the Brooklyn Museum in September 2018, in front of “Soul of a Nation” exhibition banners featuring Barkley L. Hendricks’s “Blood (Donald Formey)” 1975. | Photo courtesy Kenneth Montague

 

Pride of Place

From “Birth of the Cool” to “Soul of a Nation,” it sounds like you’ve had an incredible experience with this painting over the past decade.

It’s a great painting to see in this great show, “Soul of a Nation.” …It’s all been a very happy kind of organic process. The painting, it’s gotten bigger than me and bigger than the Wedge collection. I’m happy to share it with the public and really feel in a lot of ways it’s emblematic of Barkley’s whole style. It’s all encapsulated in the one work. The music that he loves so much with the tambourine. Black style with that crazy confluence of color and pattern. It’s one of his most dramatic, monochromatic 70s paintings. This red-on-red. It’s an orangey red.

Also, of course, it is human scale. I hang it at home at a level maybe just a few inches off the ground. Very low so that it’s up to about the lower shin area where it cuts off in the painting. I hang it as if it continues down to shoes to the floor. It feels like you’re talking to Donald Formey, the way I hang it.

“It’s emblematic of Barkley’s whole style. It’s all encapsulated in the one work. The music that he loves so much with the tambourine. Black style with that crazy confluence of color and pattern. It’s one of his most dramatic, monochromatic 70s paintings.”

Where do you hang it in your home?

It has pride of place in an area that I think most people would put the mantle of a fireplace. It’s sort of like a big showcase area in my living room. It’s the most prominent place in a house that’s full of art. It’s got a dedicated space. The loft was designed with the space where I knew the Barkley Hendricks painting was going to go. It’s across from Calders in my house (works by American artist Alexander Calder).

Any final thoughts about “Blood” being included in “Soul of a Nation”?

I was very proud because I know how much joy the painting has given my wife and I and our family and friends, you know, personally. So I knew that it was going to be a sensation in a sensational show. I really was thrilled. I also think that it’s a very, very prescient very smart move on the Brookly Museum curator Ashley James’s part because she knew that it was an image that would differentiate the show from London. It was not part of London or Crystal Bridges. It was a really good choice. It was pretty wonderful.

The whole journey’s been very wonderful. It’s been a thrilling process as a collector to see the life of a painting grow in the time that you own it. It’s something that I hadn’t experienced and hope to experience with other works in my collection. I’m really pushing African Canadian art. I think that our small black community in Canada has a lot of stories to tell, as well. CT

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

“Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” is on view at the Brooklyn Museum through Feb. 3. The exhibition is traveling to The Broad (March 23-Sept. 1, 2019) in Los Angeles where “Blood (Donald Formey)” by Barkley L. Hendricks will be on view again.

 

TOP IMAGE: BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS (American, 1945–2017), “Blood (Donald Formey),” 1975 (Oil and acrylic on canvas, 72 x 501/2 inches / 182.9 × 128.3 cm). | Courtesy of Dr. Kenneth Montague, The Wedge Collection, Toronto. © Estate of Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo by Jonathan Dorado, Brooklyn Museum

 

BOOKSHELF
Edited by curators Mark Godfrey and Zoé Whitley, “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” was published to accompany the exhibition. The catalog features images of works by Barkley L. Hendricks and more than 60 other artists, plus essays by the curators, explores major movements and moments from Spiral to FESTAC. The catalog for “Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool” documents the exhibition and the artist’s practice. It features essay contributions from Trevor Schoonmaker, Richard Powell, and Franklin Sirmans, and an interview with Hendricks conducted by Thelma Golden. The volume also contains from by Hendricks and a chronology authored by the artist. The exhibition catalog for “Back to Black: Art, Cinema & the Racial Imaginary,” may also be of interest.

 


Collector Kenneth Montague in front of “Blood (Donald Formey)” 1975, displayed in his Toronto loft. | Photo courtesy Kenneth Montague

 

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